“The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority’s chairman said on Tuesday that regulators plan to review allegations that Morgan Stanley shared negative news before Facebook’s initial public offering with institutional investors.” - CNBC, 5/22/12
But, the meaning of open government can get buried in the push forward, particularly when you begin talking about open data and other initiatives that can muddy exactly what open government is supposed to do. A clear direction and purpose is vital for open government to provide substantial and tangible returns, rather than become rhetoric.
At its core, “open government” to me means three things:
- Information Transparency: that the public understands the workings of their government;
- Public engagement: that the public can influence the workings of their government by engaging in governmental policy processes and service delivery programs; and
- Accountability: that the public can hold the government to account for its policy and service delivery performance.
Into those three buckets we can then deposit many of the “open government” initiatives, programs, and interventions that are often invoked on their own as “open government.” What’s most important here, to me, is that none of these initiatives or interventions in and of themselves constitute “open government” alone. Rather, only when combined with the others do we truly see the potential for “open government” in its most powerful and holistic form.
Bucket 1 (Information Transparency): freedom of information initiatives; open data and Big [Public] Data efforts, including open data portals; procurement, budget, and policy transparency (e.g. voting records, meeting minutes, political finance transparency).
Bucket 2 (Public Engagement): e-government services; open311 and service delivery feedback loops; stakeholder fora and participatory processes (e.g. participatory budgeting, town hall meetings, both online and offline); electoral processes.
Bucket 3 (Accountability): anti-corruption mechanisms (e.g. auditing, ombudsmen); conflicts of interest and influence peddling safeguards.
It goes without saying that the world does not fit neatly into this clean paradigm. Electoral processes are as much a form of accountability as a form of engagement, and the distinction between information transparency and engagement blurs quickly when we talk about something like open311. But hopefully the general construct holds some water.
As for technology? I view technology agnostically in the context of “open government.” Some of the above interventions don’t work without technology — think open data, open311, or e-government services. Others work quite well without websites or apps. Technology can certainly be a powerful force multiplier in the context of open government, and it can take interventions to scale rapidly. But technology is neither open government itself nor required for open government to necessarily take hold, in my view.
We tend to agree with Nathaniel’s outline. As he intelligently points out, the world rarely fits perfectly within a clean set of parameters and technology is not always vital; however, reminding ourselves of the constructs of open government will only help in moving it forward with meaning and results.